a long awaited revisit to Quinn’s Old Town Grill

The last time I was at Quinn’s Old Town Grill was seven years ago, and according to my Yelp review dated May of that year, I was not impressed. Last week, some friends decided to gather here for brunch and I was skeptical, but joined in mostly out of curiosity, but also, because I had heard that the restaurant had undergone some changes including a management and staff overhaul.

We arrived at 10am on a Sunday to find the place completely packed in both dining rooms as well as the patio. It was definitely bustling with even the bar stools taken up by customers.

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I wasn’t interested in drinking so early in the morning, but my friends were, so a round of Bloody Marys ($8.75) and Mimosas ($11.95 free flowing) were ordered. The other thing I’d like to mention is that the busboys fill the water glasses up with ice, which is a huge plus. I hate room temperature water and always have to ask for ice. I loved how I didn’t have to do that here.

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But I was famished as usual, and could not wait to dig into some food. The kitchen was on the slow side this morning but when the food started to hit the table, I was not disappointed.

One of my usual gauges for breakfast is always eggs Benedict. We decide to steer away from the traditional, and instead, opt for the Irish Benedict ($11.50) with corned beef rather than the Canadian ham we are all familiar with. The corned beef is a great choice — tender, moist, and not overly salty. I loved the hints of citrus in the Hollandaise sauce, something I’m really picky about. My only complaint is the slightly overcooked poached eggs, but overall, I was happy with this dish.

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Corned Beef Hash ($10.25) is something I shun because so many restaurants open a can of mush and call it corned beef. These days, there is dog food that is far more sophisticated than a can of Libby’s and just the smell of the canned stuff makes my stomach turn. You won’t have to worry about that here. The generous chunks of house-made corned beef is interspersed with chunks of potatoes — not all smashed together might I add — is hearty and very good. It is what I will compare all corned beef hash to in the future.

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I am a huge fan of sausages and therefore, when someone ordered Bangers & Eggs ($10.95) I did not object. The bangers are grilled, albeit required a few more minutes on the flattop, possessed nice flavors and definitely something I would order again.

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We could not leave without trying the Chicken & Waffles ($13.50) and it was absolutely stellar, with perfect crispiness on the outside and juiciness on the inside. Why would I need to drive to Roscoe’s when Quinn’s offers up a comparable option so close by? The other thing worth mentioning is that the waffle is indescribably good. I am not a fan of waffles and I could not stop eating it especially slathered with the butter and a drizzle of syrup. The salty sweet gooey softness was addicting.

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Since it was brunch, some lunch items were also featured including the very stellar Alaskan Cod Fish & Chips ($14.50/2pc or $15.75/3pc). The fish is nice and flaky, very moist, and I was okay with the amount of coating although just a hint less would be even better. The most impressive thing was the perfectly cooked steak fries. Each piece was browned well and stayed crispy throughout the meal.

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The only dish I did not care for was the Patty Melt ($10.95) which comprised of an under-seasoned Black Angus beef patty topped with grilled onions and cheddar cheese. The menu stated Jewish rye bread, but it arrived on white. The entire sandwich lacked flavor and texture, with the bread not completely toasted all the way through. I took the leftovers home, warmed it up in a pan so it crisped up and added some spicy mustard to it. It was definitely far tastier this way.

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I am glad my friend lured me back to Quinn’s. The food has definitely improved tremendously. Make no mistake that this is indeed old school dining, even so, a little work to improve the plating is definitely needed in the near future.

Quinn’s Old Town Grill
405 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: 714-731-2263

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Sea and Smoke — San Diego

I had seen friends posting about Sea & Smoke for quite a while now, so on a recently visit to San Diego, we decided to stop in for dinner to check it out. It is right off the 5 freeway in Del Mar in a plaza I’m quite familiar with. The restaurant is impressive which puzzles me why they have chosen this spot to open. But then, we see Cucina Enoteca just down the way in the same plaza. I guess the whole place is getting a face-lift with new restaurants and renovations.

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The interior is classic but modern, the bar area seems to be the most popular spot with people hanging out and converging. However, my favorite area is the outside courtyard, reminiscent of a beautiful garden on a luscious estate. The color scheme also makes for a rather relaxing experience.

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We settled in for an early dinner beginning with some cocktails. Barolo Manhattan Rye with Barolo Chinato and House Bitters ($12) and a Kentucky Punch Bourbon ($9)  refreshing and light with citrus, green tea and wine.

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Although I was not able to partake in the Oysters Del Mar ($15), my son devoured his portion with gusto. These broiled oysters smelled incredible prepared with a spinach mornay, topped with parsley bread crumbs and of course bacon.

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I’ll always order octopus when I see it, I just can’t help it. Charred Octopus ($13) was flavored nicely, all the way through even at the thickest part. Roasted ancho pepper romesco is a good accompaniment and made for a colorful plate, but I did not feel it was required. Warm frisee, golden raisins and green olives seemed a strange pairing at first, but worked well together. The octopus was slightly over-charred in some areas, but on the whole, a lovely dish.

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Creamed Polenta ($16) is one of those vegetarian dishes even a carnivore will love. In fact, it was so good I had not one complaint about it, except how huge the portion was — not really a negative, I know. Topped with an incredible tomato eggplant caponata, currants, green olive, rapini and parmesan, I’m not sure the currants added much except to give it a little sweetness, but it was perfect without.

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We were looking for some entrees with more protein involved and naturally, the boy leaned towards the Niman Ranch Burger ($13). I took a bite of it and was highly impressed by the perfectly medium rare temperature — as we had ordered it. The smoked onion jam was robust and so rich on the palate. Using both Swiss and cheddar cheeses also added to the decadence of this burger. Definitely a respectable dish all around. You can add bacon or avocado for an extra $2 each.

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I ordered the Local White Seabass ($25) and was delighted to find it perfectly executed. The outside was well-seared and the inside remained moist and fork-tender. Accoutrements of black olives, orange and fennel worked together and the brown butter potato puree was light.

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I really enjoyed our meal here and was elated that the chef put together a menu with ingredients I don’t ordinarily see together, and didn’t think would work together. Definitely a worthy dining choice when you are down San Diego way.

Sea and Smoke
2690 Via Mar Valle
Del Mar, CA 92014
Tel: 858-925-8212

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a glass of wine & some nibbles at SeaLegs

What happens when you meet your girlfriend(s) for a drink? You end up eating WAY too much while you’re having a drink or two, that’s what. SeaLegs Wine Bar in Huntington Beach is a great spot for a glass of wine — or two, or three. The bar is the best spot to do this because whoever is pouring will also give you some great suggestions as to what foods to pair your wine with, or vice versa!

Steven was our barkeep this evening, and I have encountered Steven several times before. In fact, we even have some mutual friends which makes the experience even more relaxing and enjoyable. I do apologize for the photos as I used my phone’s camera to capture everything we ate.

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We wanted some things to nibble on and were in luck as there were several spring items recently added to the menu. Grilled Turkey Meatballs ($12) are tender, seasoned with harissa, just a tad under-salted for me. A tzatziki dipping sauce accompanies. These were paired with our first pours of Chacewater Sauvignon Blanc and Haus Creek Cuvee White Blend. The latter possessed scents of honey and honeysuckle while the sauvignon blanc was refreshing and lighter than what I’m normally accustomed to.

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Beef Carpaccio ($14) is always perfect with wine and the one here is good. Fried crispy capers add a nice salty tartness and the well-dressed arugula is spicy. Don’t be afraid to ask for more lemon — I do — to drizzle over the thin beef slices. I love that burst of citrus on my palate!

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Farm Fresh Flatbread ($14) was absolutely perfect. The combination of burrata, mozzarella, parmesan nestle between the vibrant vegetables is fresh and delightful. Included are asparagus, zucchini, squash, micro arugula and basil. Not only was this visually pleasing but we agreed it was absolutely delicious as well.

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I am a fiend when it comes to Mussels and Clams ($16), never missing out on the opportunity to devour some. We were amazed by how plump the littleneck clams and Prince Edward Island mussels were. Add to that a briny broth dotted with bacon, shallots, garlic, leeks and white wine, it was all too scrumptious to stop. If I wasn’t sharing, I would have picked the bowl up and slurped it.

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Our next drinks came in the form of reds, the Chateau Coutinel is a light red, one we all enjoyed with the next of our dishes.

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Braised Chicken Tacos ($9) are so flavorful and the pickled onions are a great touch. Even so, I spritzed a little lemon juice on them for extra freshness.

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The Lobster Sliders might not be on the menu when you go, but it comes back from time to time and are pretty good to share, or as an entree for yourself.

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I wasn’t planning on ordering Quinoa Crab Fried Rice ($18) but I saw someone eating it across the bar, someone who ravished it under five minutes, and I couldn’t resist. The shards of crab meat ran throughout and the runny egg adds a creamy dimension to the plate. I loved the crunch of the bean sprouts making it deliciously addicting. I think this was our absolute favorite!

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If you’re on your own, SeaLegs Wine Bar is the perfect place to dine at the bar. If you’re with a group, the lounge is great for a casual get-together. Soon, SeaLegs will offer outdoor patio dining as well.

SeaLegs Wine Bar
21022 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Tel: 714-536-5700

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a highly respectable menu at Fireside Tavern

I first experienced Fireside Tavern at its grand opening a few months ago. From the tidbits we sampled, I knew immediately that this new restaurant will be a winner. Why you might ask? Well, in my decades of experience, if the food you’re eating at a cocktail event, a wedding, or anything where food is served to the masses is actually delicious, then just think what they are able to accomplish when they’re cooking just for you and your party.

FIRESIDEChef Scott Brandon (photo courtesy of Bob Hodson) helms the kitchen and my knowledge of him was only limited to burgers (Crow Burger) and hotdogs (LinX). This is the first time I’ve had “real food” by this incredibly talented chef. Honestly, this guy can really cook!

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A small group of us were invited for a taste of the menu offered at Fireside Tavern recently, please note, prices listed are a la carte prices and do not reflect the portions depicted in the photos. We started in the lounge area for some cocktails and appetizers before heading into the dining room for a meal served family style.

Please note: some items are not featured on the menu but are reserved for special occasion menus.

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One of my favorite starters was the Royal Red Rock Shrimp Hushpuppies ($11) with Creole remoulade and green tomato chow chow, a relish made with green tomatoes, napa cabbage, green and red peppers, sweet onions and jalapenos. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, these are awesome accompaniments to go with our drinks.

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Not being a big pork belly fan, the Berkshire Pork Belly Sliders absolutely won me over. The well-rendered slices of pork belly are sandwiched between Rockenwagner salt & pepper brioche buns with apricot mostarda, pickled shallots, wild rocket (arugula) and reggiano. I loved the sweet tart flavors of the mostarda which helped balance the unctuousness of the pork belly along with the pickled shallots.

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We moved into the private dining room to continue our experience at a larger scale. The first thing we were presented with were these incredibly fluffy Tillamook cheddar cheese biscuits ($5) dotted with bacon and chives served with hand churned butter. I was trying to pace myself but devoured an entire one. It was hard to resist.

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One of my favorite items of the evening was Pickled Wild Gulf Shrimp, a delightful array of my favorite things in a jar. I loved the fennel, the beautiful array of radishes, and especially the pickled quail eggs. Of course the wild Gulf shrimp were delicious too, but those quail eggs won me over. This item was featured on the Mother’s Day menu this past Sunday.

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We sampled three entrees, all of which were pretty outstanding. Chef Brandon is a master when it comes to seasoning proteins. I was highly impressed by how everything was salted to absolute perfection.

Cedar Plank Loch Duarte Salmon ($24) was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a really distinctive taste which I love in Scottish salmon. Accompanied with twice cooked fingerling potatoes, creamy kale and preserved kumquats, the latter is an accoutrement I did not expect to work with the dish, but it was genius.

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I was so impressed by Pan Roasted Mary’s Chicken (served as half roasted chicken on the menu for $21) which was moist and juicy and of course, beautifully flavored. I’m not a huge fan of panzanella even though this particular one embodied some really rich roasted tomato piquancy.

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The one which blew everyone away was Grilled Tavern Steak Bone-In 20oz Greater Omaha Ribeye ($35), at a perfect medium rare with an outstanding bone marrow butter on top. I was so full and took only half a piece of the steak, but ended up reaching for another half piece because it was just THAT good. If I had more room, I would no doubt have polished off half a piece of this.

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Dessert was an Icebox Cake ($8) which was very interesting to me. I love how this is a no-bake cake using chocolate wafers and is layered with a mocha mascarpone cream, chocolate ganache and drizzled with raspberry coulis. I think even I am able to make this! So simple yet really pretty.

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I cannot wait to return to Fireside Tavern to try more of what Chef Scott Brandon has to offer. This man can seriously cook, a highly attractive trait in my book!

Fireside Tavern
at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
3131 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-557-3000

Fireside Tavern on Urbanspoon

spring menu at A Restaurant + Mother’s Day brunch

Even though I posted about A Restaurant not so long ago, I wanted to showcase its new spring menu which is now available. To me, Jon Blackford is a chef who has all the talent in the world, is a crazy great cook and everyone needs to know that! I still can’t believe it when people tell me they’ve not been to A Restaurant.

The spring menu has some absolutely delicious dishes, all made from scratch. I highly recommend Spring Garlic and Wine Sausage ($12) a house-made sausage using the seasonal garlic which has just sprung and not as pungent as “old garlic”. Served with an herb spaetzle, charred cabbage and mustard emulsion, this was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. The sausage has perfect texture with a beautiful crunchy exterior and flavors are wonderfully robust.

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Even though meat is generally the highlight of a meal at A Restaurant, I believe the seafood also shines here. You won’t see me ordering halibut usually at a restaurant because often, it tends to run more on the overcooked side. But Chef Blackford is a master at his craft and Alaskan Halibut ($34) was prepared to perfection, not the least bit overdone at all. Tender, flaky fish, seasoned perfectly with well paired accoutrements such as scallion, mustard, asparagus, oyster mushrooms and black garlic come together creating a perfect plate.

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Ironically, another protein I don’t usually order is pork so I was amazed by the Niman Ranch Pork Tenderloin ($26) served alongside crispy pork belly pieces for incredible texture contrast. Green garlic pierogi is interesting and brings Chef Blackford’s childhood to the fore. The use of chervil is delightful as it is not a readily found herb on most restaurants’ menus.

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The piece de resistance of meals at A Restaurant is almost always, a perfectly executed piece of meat. Imperial Wagyu Strip grade 9-10 8oz ($80) is a stellar dish which I recommend sharing, especially if you’re sharing appetizers as well. Whenever I’ve dined here, we’ve asked for steaks to be sliced before being brought to table. This way, we can all enjoy without overindulging. Chefs who are able to season a piece of meat correctly always have my utmost respect. You’d be surprised how often I am presented with a piece of under-seasoned steak.

This Sunday, a special three-course prix fixe Mother’s Day brunch will be offered from 11am to 2.30pm. The regular dinner menu will be available from 4pm to 8pm. The brunch is $40 per person and $25 per child under 8 years old (excluding tax and gratuity), check out the menus below.

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I urge you all to make your reservations now for a taste of Chef Blackford’s ingenuity!

A Restaurant
3334 W Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Tel: 949-650-6505

A Restaurant on Urbanspoon

good comfort food at Eureka! Discover American Craft

There’s been a lot of new happenings at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach and Eureka! Discover American Craft is the latest. We came here for lunch a few weeks ago to find a welcoming environment with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The ample sized dining room is spacious with booth and table seating. If you’re dining alone, you can choose the seats along the bar or the counter across from it.

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There is an impressive list of craft beers, but what is even more incredible is the whiskey offering. You should order a flight to start! The best part about the flights here is that you can mix and match beers with whiskeys. Pricing depends on your selection.

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Lollipop Corn Dogs ($7.50) was the first to catch my eye and it was a must in my book. These bites are perfect to go with your beer or whiskey. The little polish sausages are thinly coated with a sweet corn batter making it not overly heavy. I really enjoyed these.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t like the Osso Bucco Riblets ($8.95) as much. The menu description said “lightly tossed in a homemade firecracker aioli” but I couldn’t detect any. We asked for a side of it for dipping purposes and that helped immensely.

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Marinated Grilled Portabello ($12.50) is a perfect vegetarian option. The salad is dressed perfectly with really great tart flavors I love. It is also carbless if you don’t eat the accompanying fries — which are so good you won’t be able to stop at one.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how good the Pan Fried Lump Crab Cake ($16.50) was. Generous chunks of crab are left whole and lightly pan fried to create a nice crispy exterior and with not much fillers at all. I would definitely order this again!

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Being a huge fan of onion rings, I was seriously impressed when I saw Panko Crusted Onion Rings ($4.50) arrive at the table. These ginormous onion rings are lightly coated with the onions still retaining its moisture on the inside. These are a knife and fork job, not easily picked up and eaten by hand, but well worth the effort.

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You can’t leave here without trying a burger. All the burgers here uses all natural beef that’s vegetarian fed and free of hormone and antibiotics. We opted for the Fresno Fig Burger ($11.25) which is topped with a house-made fig marmalade, melted goat cheese and crispy bacon. It was a tad sweet for me, but my dining companion loved it! We asked for sweet potato fries this time and they were absolutely delicious!

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Eureka is a good spot for American comfort food. The burgers are stellar and if you’re not always feeling a burger (like me) you have other great options to choose from.

Eureka! Discover American Craft
7631 Edinger Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Tel: 714-230-3955

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